Her Letters To Lovecraft: Natalie H. Wooley

I should say that weird fans who have a taste in liking the outre in literature have a superior taste, rather than a morbid one, a sign of an inquiring mind, that is not satisfied with Wild West, Gangster, or sickly mediocre love stories. But to explore the hidden corners of things, whether it be the universe, the mind, or the supernatural, is providing that one’s mind is not smug or narrow. If this be madness, insanity, or morbidity, glory in it, you weird and fantasy fans. 
—Natalie H. Wooley,
The Fantasy Fan May 1934

Natalie Hartley Wooley wrote to Lovecraft by way of Weird Tales in c. June 1933, inquiring into the reality of the strange tomes and Mythos in his fiction. While we cannot say for certain what prompted her letter, Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House” was published in the July 1933 issue, which hit stands the month before. Lovecraft, as he always did, revealed that it was an artificial mythology. The correspondence went on from there.

She was 29 years old in 1933, and her son George was nine years old. Biographical details are scarce; very few of her letters appear to have survived, and we have only Lovecraft’s side of the the correspondence, amounting to 15 letters (or parts thereof) from 1933 to 1936. Wooley was also a member of Lovecraft’s late round robin letter group the Coryciani, of which 4 letters survive from 1934-1936. More of her own writing survives in early fanzines and amateur journalism.

It appears that through Lovecraft, Wooley was introduced to both amateur journalism and early science fiction fandom—and joined both. Wooley was a poet, and perhaps had aspirations to be a writer. Lovecraft’s letters give lists of weird fiction that a dedicated fan might read, sources for occult lore ranging from The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray to medieval grimoires and Theosophy, and advice on writing and being published. Perhaps aware of how he had advised revision clients like Zealia Bishop in the past, Lovecraft wrote:

However—don’t bother with weird fiction at all unless you feel a genuine inclination toward it. It is the most difficult of all material to market professionally, & the circle of those who truly enjoy & appreciate it is always discouragingly small.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 6 Aug 1933, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 191

Marketable or not, Wooley tried her hand at it. Her short story of a murderer on death’s row feeling the ghostly revenge of another was published as “Spurs of Death” in The Fantasy Fan (Dec 1933). Acclaim was modest; Lovecraft’s letter in the January 1934 issue reads “All the stories are excellent and the departments are as interesting as usual.”; H. C. Koenig in the February issue wrote “this Wooley person certainly did a very nice job with her story.”

More effusive praise would come for Wooley’s poetry, much of it from Lovecraft himself. Still, she was in the mix and among the fans; her poems and fan-letters graced the pages of The Fantasy Fan and Marvel Tales in 1934 and 1935, and from Lovecraft’s responses it is clear that she read and commented on his fiction. Beyond that, Lovecraft appears to have recruited her to amateur journalism, where she had further outlet for her poetry and opinions:

A new voice in the National is that of Mrs. Natalie Hartley Wooley, whose brief, wistful lyrics strike one’s fancy with singular sharpness through certain faint overtones subtly suggesting magical vistas and dim regions beyond the confines of daylight reality. “Western Night”, in the Summer Goldenrod, has great charm and power; while “Flight”, in the October Sea Gull, unites with its general elfin quality a poignant human pathos.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Bureau of Critics” in the National Amateur (June 1934), Collected Essays 1.375

NATALIE HARTLEY WOOLEY, Kansas, is a member of both the National and United Amateur Press Associations and has contributed to Kansas City Star, Kansas City Journal-Post, Marvel Tales, The Fantasy Fan, and to The Christian Board of Publication periodicals. She wrote the lyrics for “Querida, a Spanish Serenade,” a song which may be heard on the radio.
“Who’s New,” Kaleidograph (Dec 1934), quoted in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 10n7

As with most of Lovecraft’s letters, what began as a focus on weird fiction eventually grew broader. Wooley asked about Wiggam’s The Fruit of the Family Tree (1924), a popular work on eugenics, which led to a lengthy response from Lovecraft, touching on Nazi antisemitism and the 1933 law on compulsory sterilization, miscegenation and the color-line in the United States, and the rising power of and Westernization of Japan. Yet for the most part their letters concern weird fiction, fellow fans, and especially in the Coryciani letters, poetry. One such letter shows Lovecraft’s appreciation for her verse:

Mrs. Wooley’s contribution is rich in illuminating comments & examples. She is, it would seem, right in believing that both simple & involvedly mystical & allusive (within reasonable limits) verse have a definite & unchallengeable place in the aesthetic scheme. Like Mr. Adams’s, her preferences run to the philosophical—albeit in a somewhat less concrete fashion. A certain wistful, elusive mysticism—involving touches of the whimsical, the fantastic, & the delicately spectral—often characterises Mrs. Wooley’s own verses—as the columns of amateur journalism amply attest.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the Coryciani, 17 Mar 1935, Lovecraft Annual (2017) #11 136-137

As an example of her poetry, this bit of verse was squeezed in after a few verses of the Fungi from Yuggoth and before Robert E. Howard’s “Voices of the Night” in The Fantasy Fan (Jan 1935):

THE ALIEN
by Natalie H. Wooley

She is like living golden flame.
She knows not whence or why she came
       Into this world…and yet at times
I hear her call strange gods by name.

There is no warmth in her embrace,
Of human passions not a trace.
       She seems remote, a thing attuned
To summonings from outer space.

And on each starry, moonlit night
She gazes long in rapt delight
        Toward the skies…while I weep
Lest the message come, and she take flight.

Robert E. Howard was another author that interested Wooley. She must have read his Conan story “Beyond the Black River” (Weird Tales May-Jun 1935) with enthusiasm, and written to Lovecraft about him, for Lovecraft wrote back:

Yes—Robert E. Howard is a notable author—more powerful & spontaneous than even he himself realises. He tends to get away from weirdness toward sheer sanguinary adventure, but there is still no one equal to him in describing haunted cyclopean ruins in an African or Hyperborean jungle. He has written reams of powerful poetry, also—most of which is still unpublished.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 28 Jun 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 205

Wooley excerpted a passage from “Beyond the Black River” for a brief critical work titled “The Adventure Story,” published in The Californian (Fall 1935). She praised the Texan as a writer—one of the few such critical assessments he would ever get in his short life.

There, my friends, is writing. A paragraph of less than a hundred words, yet combining description, menace, and a hint of action to come. Each word is carefully chosen. Note that artfully worded last sentence, with its intimation of impending conflict; sustaining the reader’s interest through what otherwise might be a rather colorless bit of description. Mr. Howard, well known adventure-fiction story writer, is one of the few who do not sacrifice beautiful narrative style for the action demanded in such stories, but combines the two masterfully.
—Natalie H. Wooley, “The Adventure Story,” reprinted in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 441

Robert E. Howard received a copy of The Californian, and wrote back—though any further contact was cut short by his suicide in 1936.

Thank you very much for the copy of The Californian. I feel greatly honored that Miss Wooley should have quoted an excerpt from my serial “Beyond the Black River” in her article in your fine journal.
—Robert E. Howard to The Californian (Summer 1936)

Lovecraft’s friend and future literary executor R. H. Barlow moved to Kansas City to attend the art institute there in 1936; through their mutual friend and correspondent Barlow and Wooley got in touch. It is the only time that Wooley is known to have met with anyone else in the Lovecraft circle—or science fiction fandom in general.

No letters to Wooley or mention of her survives in Lovecraft’s correspondence past December 1936; no doubt his fatal illness curtailed their back-and-forth. We may get a sense of her side of the correspondence from a single letter that survives at the John Hay Library among Lovecraft’s papers—this was sent from Wooley to E. A. Edkins, who forwarded it to Lovecraft.

WooleyLetter

Wooley did not immediately disappear from view; The Fantasy Fan and Marvel Tales, her main outlets for fandom, had both faltered, but she was still active in amateur journalism for a time. A favorite example is her assessment of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922):

As erotica, the book is a disappointment. Some of Boccaccio or Balzac, or the modern writers Bodenheim and Donald Henderson Clarke outstrip it completely. As history, it is
insignificant. As a text-book of hitherto deleted words, it leaves little to the imagination.
—Natalie H. Wooley, “Well, I’ve Read It” in Nix Nem (Dec 1936), quoted in The Fossil 345

What did Lovecraft’s correspondence mean to Natalie H. Wooley? It encouraged her writing and poetry, helped her find new outlets to publish her work. She was, whether she knew it or not, in the thick of early fandom, and her voice was heard among writers who would grow to become legends—though she herself is nearly forgotten today, her poetry lives on.

Lovecraft’s letters with Natalie H. Wooley, along with a selection of her poetry and critical writings from amateur journalism have been published in Letters to Robert Bloch & Others (2015, Hippocampus Press); some of these letters had previously been published in volume 4 and 5 of the Selected Letters from Arkham House. The letters to the Coryciani have been published in Lovecraft Annual #11 (2017, Hippocampus Press).

Thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for his help on this one.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“In the Confessional” (1892) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro

However, not long after “The Electric Executioner” saw print, Lovecraft made a curious reference:

None of our firm has had very good success in placing clients’ manuscripts—though I did accidentally land Yig, and three tales of Old Dolph’s—but I am convinced that failures on the part of different members have been for almost opposite reasons.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 3 Nov 1930, Selected Letters 3.204

In late 1929 or early 1930, editor of Weird Tales Farnsworth Wright announced that the company would be launching a new magazine: Strange Stories.

By the way—Wright tells me he is about to launch another magazine, devoted to “stories which are truly strange & unusual in plot.” All subjects will be included—even weird stuff now & then. I don’t suppose this opening will mean much to me, but it ought to mean a new market for one of your versatility.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 25 Feb 1930, Essential Solitude 1.249

Farnsworth tells me that the company is going to publish another magazine this summer, using stories of all sorts, so long as they are somewhat out of the ordinary. I gather that they don’t have to be impossible, but just different from the general run of stories. I’m hoping to just about double my income from his company when that magazine comes out. Of course, I may not be able to sell them a blightin’ thing.
—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, c. Feb 1930, Collected Letters 2.17

The issue is a little confused, since in June 1930 Wright announced yet another magazine, Oriental Stories, and Strange Stories was never published. Macfadden had published the short-lived pulp True Strange Stories (Mar-Nov 1929) and claimed rights to the title. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard both comment on the legal dispute in their letters which dragged out for months. Lovecraft summarized things succinctly:

As for Wright’s projected third magazine—I am astonished that you have not heard of the plan before! The idea—broached first a year or more ago—was for a magazine to contain wildly unusual & bizarre stories, not excluding a few weird items; & it progressed to a stage where Wright actually began accepting tales for it. He took items from Belknap, & from my odd old Biercian client, Dr. Dangizer–de Castro. I had not known what the name was to be, until Robert E. Howard spoke of the conflict with Macfadden’s. I saw an issue or two of the defunct Macfadden thing a year & a half ago, when Vrest Orton tried to write for it; but did not know that the name remained a legal entity after the collapse of the venture itself. Now that the W.T. company is in such an evident mess, (did you receive the form letter urging patience about remittances?) I hardly expect the third magazine to be started at all. Just how serious Wright’s intentions ever were, one can’t be sure. I fancy it was always a vague future project with him.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 25 Dec 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 285 

Nowhere in his correspondence does Lovecraft give the title of the third revision, and it isn’t clear when it was done, except that it must be between December 1929 (“two de Castro jobs” DS 285) and November 1930 (“three tales of Old Dolph’s” SL3.204); this could explain the long genesis of “The Electric Executioner,” if Lovecraft was actually revising two tales. The only reference to this third revision discovered so far are in the unpublished letters of Lovecraft’s literary executor R. H. Barlow:

How about The Electric Executioner & The Last Test? Old de Castro has an unpublished HPL “revision” – In the Confessional, which it might be well to harpoon.
—R. H. Barlow to August Derleth, 6 May [1937?]

I think I mentioned the unpublished MS about Poland, which he ghosted for old de Castro, & which remains in his possession. The Last Test & The Electric Executioner are absolutely HP’s, by his own admission.
—R. H. Barlow to August Derleth, 20 June [1937?]

“In the Confessional” was the title story of In the Confessional and the Following (1893), and concerns a Polish countess in Paris; it was first published in The San Francisco Examiner May 1892. It was from this volume that de Castro’s two other stories that Lovecraft revised, “A Sacrifice to Science” and “The Automatic Executioner”, are drawn.

What Lovecraft might have added to “In the Confessional” is mostly unknown, but in another letter he wrote:

I’ve put Yog-Sothoth and Tsathoggua in yarns ghost-written for Adolphe de Castro […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, 31 May 1935, Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 437

Since Yog-Sothoth appears in “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” but Tsathoggua does not, it is possible that Tsathoggua has a reference in the third revision…and that is all we know about that. It is not even clear if the story would be weird fiction at all, if the market was Strange Stories.

The Adolphe de Castro papers at the Jewish American Archives contain typescripts related to the other two Lovecraft revisions. Of the third revision, there is no obvious sign; de Castro’s papers contain no typescript titled “In the Confessional,” or any other English-language manuscript which suggests the plot or characters of that story. However, there is an undated typescript in Spanish titled “La Confesión de La Condesa Valera” which is a translation and expansion of de Castro’s English-language story.

Lovecraft scholars have been looking for a revision to “In the Confessional,” here among Adolphe de Castro’s papers we have a revision of “In the Confessional,” is this a previously unknown Lovecraft revision?

Probably not.

La Confesión de La Condesa Valera” is without a doubt an expansion and revision of “In the Confessional.” However, we have no idea when it was written (the typescript is undated), and the text itself shows no evidence of any Lovecraftian input. In part, this may well be due to the translation from English to Spanish, which would require the whole text to be filtered through de Castro once again, but more than that the story lacks any weird element, although there is a touch of science fiction at one point. There is no reference to Lovecraft’s artificial mythology, even as a red herring or bit of color.

It is not impossible to completely rule out Lovecraft having some influence on the tale, but it must be remembered that the information we have on the third de Castro revision in Lovecraft’s letters is very slight—Lovecraft himself never names the story; that was provided by Barlow in a letter to Derleth, and Barlow may have got it wrong, or confused the name of the revision with the name of the book from which the stories originally came. So there is no guarantee that we are even looking in the right place when we look for a revision of “In the Confessional.”

With an eye toward the possibilities, and admitting that we are in the realm of speculation, “In the Confessional” might actually have been a candidate for Strange Stories with a bit of work. The mutilation of the Countess Wanda’s face would have fit rather neatly into the “weird terror” or “shudder pulp” vein that was gaining popularity at the time, and Weird Tales included a few stories of this sort such as Seabury Quinn’s “The House of Horror” (1926), and the tragic ending is suitably poetic and bloody; if the prose had been reworked and maybe expanded a little, it could probably have sold. Would Lovecraft have taken this route? He could work with grue (“Herbert West–Reanimator,” “In the Vault,” “The Loved Dead” with C. M. Eddy), although he usually didn’t. Likewise, Lovecraft did not exclusively write weird fiction (“Sweet Ermengarde” being the most notable example), although he usually did.

La Confesión” is a fairly substantial revision of the original story–but not on those lines. The scene is moved to World War I, and embeds the original narrative into a story about a hunt for a German spy in France, with a romantic subplot. The happy ending, where it turns out the “poison” that Valera took is nothing poisonous at all, is a far cry from the original conte cruel finale, which is probably one of the few parts of the story Lovecraft might have approved of (although we do not have his exact response to the original story, Lovecraft called the book “execrable.”) These could well be taken as examples of updating the story and modifying it to be more salable—for what market, we have no idea. The only really notably strange part is a small science fiction element, which appears early in the story and is never mentioned again:

El Cura era un hombre de ciencia, y en el corto periodo de tiempo que hacía estaba en París, había perfeccionado una serie de cometas, con un sistema de placas sensitivas afectadas por Ias corrientes de aire. Estos cometas el hizo remontar, y de este modo pudo descubrir la dirección del gran cañón con el que el enemigo hostilizaba a París.

Para estas observaciones aéreas, había organizado un pequeño grupo de mujeres de su parróquia, y estaban dispuestas de tal manera en la torre de la iglesia, que formaban una cadena viviente, pudíendo dar al instante, a las autoridades información de cualquier movimiento en el cielo, sea cual fuere la altura o la distancia.
—Adolphe de Castro, “La Confesión de Valera,” American Jewish Archives (MS-348)

The Priest was a man of science, and in the short time he had been in Paris, he had perfected a series of kites, with a system of sensitive plates affected by air currents. He made these comets soar, and in this way he was able to discover the direction of the great cannon with which the enemy was harassing Paris.

For these aerial observations he had organized a small group of women from his parish, and they were arranged in such a way in the church tower that they formed a living chain, and could instantly give the authorities information of any movement in the sky, whatever the height or distance.
—Rough translation, “The Confession of Valera”

The language and construction, however, remains very much de Castro’s rather than Lovecraft’s. The odd framing device of Valera in the confessional telling her story through dialogue (and then Wanda telling Valera her story in a mess of a nested narrative) is handled almost exactly as it was in the original story; Lovecraft had handled complicated narratives before with much more grace in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928), and it is hard to believe that he would have not restructured the narrative more readably if he had taken the job. Also notably absent is any description of the architecture of Paris or any other location, which would be an odd lack in a Lovecraft story.

There does not seem any given point in “La Confesión” that can be pointed out as representing a definite, or even likely, survival of Lovecraftian influence. If anything, a comparison of “In the Confessional” and “La Confesión” versus “A Sacrifice to Science” and “Surama of Atlantis” or “The Automatic Executioner” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” shows how substantially Lovecraft tended to rewrite these stories, compared to de Castro revising his own work, as is apparently the case with “La Confesión.”

So we are left with a story that is most interesting as a scholarly footnote: here it is, it exists, and there is little more to say about it. “La Confesión” in its current form does not appear to ever been published in English or Spanish, and may never be.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft & Adolphe Danziger de Castro

To say that “The Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are discoveries is a bit of a misstep: they were never really lost. After de Castro’s death in 1959 his papers made their way to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who in turn donated them to the American Jewish Archives in 1988 as Manuscript Collection No. 348. The excellent inventory of the de Castro collection by Chris Powell in 1996 notes both the existence of the texts and their relation to Lovecraft’s revisions. J.-M. Rajala noted in the 2011 Lovecraft Annual:

2 linear feet of de Castro’s papers, including unspecified manuscripts, are in the American Jewish Archives of the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati (The Jacob Marcus Rader Center, MS-348), and I wonder if these have been carefully examined by anyone. (56)

Powell had, writing in “The Revised Adolphe de Castro” in Lovecraft Studies #36:

He minimally revised “The Electric Executioner” and retitled it “The Automatic Electric Executioner”. He also revised “The Last Test”, creating “The Surama of Atlantis”. He made minimal revisions to most of the story but made more substantial changes at the beginning to describe the origin of the shadowy character, Surama, and to the final outcome of the story. (24)

Powell also noted that:

“Surama of Atlantis” is planned to be included in The Nyarlathotep Cycle being edited by Robert M. Price for upcoming release by Chaosium. (24n14)

However, “Surama of Atlantis” and the other texts were not published in The Nyarlathotep Cycle or anywhere else, though Price thanks Chris Powell in his introduction. There is likely a story there, but the end is that “Surama of Atlantis” has remained in obscurity to the present day.

The original texts by Adolphe de Castro which Lovecraft worked from are those published within In the Confessional and the Following (1893). As is characteristic of Lovecraft, he completely rewrote both “The Automatic Executioner” and “A Sacrifice to Science.” Presumably this would also have been the case with the third revision, though no text of this revision is known to survive.

This work would initially have been done by hand; though no manuscript copies survive, and were later typed by someone (de Castro for “The Last Test,” Lovecraft for “The Electric Executioner”) for submission to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. These final typescripts are also non-extant, so it is not clear what editorial changes, if any, that Wright made when they were published in the pages of Weird Tales. Martin Andersson has pointed out that there are also minor differences between the Weird Tales texts and the version of the stories published in Something About Cats and Others (1949, Arkham House); these differences are not reflected in the AJA texts, so we can be reasonably certain de Castro did not reference the Arkham House text.

For the three new typescripts, the variations from the Weird Tales text include variant titles, spellings (and misspellings), typographical errors, and changes in phrase and formatting that range from slight to rewriting entire paragraphs. The most substantial differences are with “Surama of Atlantis,” which is about 500 words longer, adding a relatively substantial beginning scene and slightly expanded ending, among other changes.

It is difficult to say who is responsible for the differences between the Weird Tales texts and the AJA typescripts; part of the differences (typos, dropped and repeated words, etc.) can be put down to typist error, but not the insertion or substitution of phrases and entire passages. As these do not appear in the Weird Tales texts, they are either survivals from a previous draft (Lovecraft was known to do multiple drafts of stories), or were added in afterwards (almost certainly by de Castro). The possibility of both cannot be ruled out; that is de Castro may have re-typed “Surama of Atlantis” from an older draft of “Clarendon’s Last Test” by Lovecraft and made his own alterations on top of that. The very-unLovecraft-like passage that ends “????” is almost certainly from de Castro.

The passengers on the Satsu Maru cascaded down the gang-plank, glad to be once more on American soil. There was a slight pause in the flow and then a tall thin man, wearing a gray ulster and a fedora hat that shaded his bespectackled eyes, short nose and bearded chin appeared.

Following him was a pretty young woman, dressed in gray with a large straw hat, the brim held down over the ears by a wide blue ribbon. Her left hand held the chain of a gold mesh bag, while her right clutched the collar around the neck of a magnificent St. Bernard dog.

Closely following them was an individual, tall beyond the ordinary, garbed in a long black cape that hung on his shoulders, and covered his entire body, what was seen of his face when the wind lifted the wide brim of his soft large slouch hat, was shocking; it indicated that the head had no hair. His eyes, like glinting black obsidian, were set so deep in the sockets that they seemed black pools in a cavernous skull. In fact, a closer view strengthened the assumption that it was a skull. there was no nose other than a depression and there were no lips over the large yellow teeth.

A moment he stood still, gazing at the sunlit wharf, at the people, and the large Hotel bus which was stationed a short distance from the gangplank.

As the black-clad skeleton halted, it irritated the bespectackled gentleman who turned and said, “What makes you so slow, Surama?”

The individual called Surama, grinned horribly and said, “Coming, doctor.”
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

What parts of “Surama of Atlantis” were written by Adolphe de Castro, and why? What parts might be strange survivals from an earlier Lovecraft draft? Is there any way to tell? Objectively, no. Without access to Lovecraft’s original manuscript, it is impossible to say definitively one way or another. Yet we can say a few things.

Lovecraft did not make any fuss over substantial errors when “The Last Test” was published, so we can assume the text in Weird Tales is predominantly as he wrote it in the final draft. Also, given that the first title Lovecraft mentions in his letters is “Clarendon’s Last Test,” it is apparent that “Clarendon” was not a change made by de Castro to the manuscript sent to Weird Tales. In “Surama of Atlantis,” the doctor’s last name is “Schuyler” rather than Clarendon. It is also notable that the name “Schuyler” does appear in the Weird Tales script, as Alfred Schuyler Clarendon and Frances Schuyler Clarendon both attest. This oddity could be the result if Schuyler was the original name, and that Clarendon was then added later—but this presumes two drafts, an early draft and a final one. In any case, it is notable that at no point does de Castro revert to the names in “A Sacrifice for Science” (i.e. Clinton for Clarendon/Schuyler, et al.)

The character of Surama evolved from the character of Mort in “A Sacrifice to Science,” but the Atlantean background was pure Lovecraft—“De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!” (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165) Much of the variant material in “Surama of Atlantis” focuses on Surama, from the title and the opening scene to the bizarre ending. If we do accept the idea that there was a previous draft, and that “Surama of Atlantis” retains several features from it, the most obvious are the ones that describe turtle-like attributes to Surama. In “The Last Test” only a single such descriptor exists:

Unlike the ideal subordinate, he seemed despite his impassive features to spend no effort in concealing such emotions as he possessed. Instead, he carried about an insidious atmosphere of irony or amusement, accompanied at certain moments by a deep, guttural chuckle like that of a giant turtle which has just torn to pieces some furry animal and is ambling away toward the sea.

In “Surama of Atlantis,” however, numerous references of turtle-like characteristics are applied to Surama. The idea of Surama as a kind of monstrous turtle-man works within the logic of the story except for one part: the double-aftermath.

In the afternoon the leisurely firemen overhauled the ruins and found two skeletons—or rather one human skeleton with the skull intact with the frame; of the other only the skull—a very human skull, but with osseous outlines disturbingly suggesting a saurian of some sort. The skull reminded people of Surama, and only well-cut clothing could have made a body as indicated by the skeleton look like a man.

An added horror to the situation was a big hole found under the stout fence back of the destroyed building, and Pat McMonigall, the street car watchman, returning from his beat, assured neighbors that he had seen “a turtle as big as a house” ambling down the hill to the bay, a statement that was not take quite seriously, although Pat McMonigall was a rather abstemious chap. Did Surama go back to Atlantis????
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

It is completely incongruous for Surama to make his way back down to the sea and to leave behind a skull and skeleton for paleontologists to muddle over, at least not unless Surama was wearing the skull like a hat and peering out through the eye-sockets. If this is a survival from an earlier draft, it isn’t clear how this discrepancy might be resolved—either de Castro wrote the entire ending himself (the unLovecraftian line “Did Surama go back to Atlantis????” is almost certainly his; it reads like an annotation accidentally copied onto the line), or possibly de Castro borrowed verbiage from the Weird Tales version and grafted it onto the earlier draft to give a double-aftermath where there was only one before.

It is also worth noting that in the Weird Tales version, it is specified “that’s all that can reach him, James, unless you can catch him asleep and drive a stake through his heart.” A very vampire-like touch which is at odds with Surama as a kind of turtle, but also much simpler and perhaps more reasonable in keeping with his corpse-like appearance. This is changed in “Surama of Atlantis,” with the suggestion that no ordinary weapon can pierce his shell.

A less evident but more serious problem in “Surama of Atlantis” is the question of narration: who is the narrator? Lovecraft gives no specific identity, the story is related anonymously. Yet the beginning of “Surama of Atlantis” specifies that the narrator is a reporter who was injured by Surama and has not long to live, while the ending states:

Dalton probably gave Dr. Jackson an inkling of the truth, and that good soul had not many secrets from his son, who is the writer of these lines.” (ibid.)

It is a very unLovecraftian mistake; but is it the case of a botch in trying to merge an earlier draft with the later Weird Tales text, or de Castro failing to notice the discrepancy as he added his own additions to the story? Notably, there is a reporter who is injured (though not seriously) by Surama in the course of the story, who plays a key role in events; however, if Lovecraft provided such an opening, would he not have also included a suitable closing? It seems an odd plot hook to leave hanging.

It is important to note several places where the Weird Tales text has expanded on the same text in “Surama of Atlantis.” The appointment of Schuyler/Clarendon to San Quentin is given much more space in “The Last Test,” which foreshadows the governor’s political struggles and losing his appointment power. The benefits of Schuyler/Clarendon’s appointment are noted at greater length, as is the emotional argument when Dalton asks for Georgina’s hand in marriage. Instructing Dalton to blot out the Greek passages but send Miller the notebooks makes much more narrative sense than just telling Dalton to blot out and burn everything, as happens in “Surama of Atlantis.” These are the kind of changes which reinforce the narrative as a whole—and they are the kind of changes that one would expect to see between earlier and successive drafts.

It is the omissions as much as anything which suggests that de Castro was not working directly from a copy of Weird Tales. There does not seem to be any narrative reason to have not copied these sections as-is, since they have little overall impact on the other changes in the story. Yet this cannot be taken proof positive of an earlier draft; it could simply be that de Castro made all the changes on his own. It is notable that of the major changes, two—the extended opening and ending—provide an identity for the narrator of the story. The burrowing-turtle aftermath leaves the story open for a hypothetical sequel.

The rest of the changes are minor, and a couple are mysterious. “The Last Test” refers to the Royal Hotel, which burned down in 1906; “Surama of Atlantis” instead refers to the Phelan Building—which also burned down in 1906, but was then rebuilt in 1908 and still survives today; it’s not clear what benefit one has over the other, since both were still standing in the 1890s when the story takes place. The focus at on “microbio death” is a bit weirder:

“Don’t look so shaken up, old fellow! A veteran politician-fighter like you must have seen plenty of unmaskings before. I tell you, I never had even the start of a fever cure. But my studies had taken me into some queer places, and it was just my damned luck to listen to the stories of some still queerer people.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro & H. P. Lovecraft, “The Last Test”

“Don’t look so shaken up, old fellow! A veteran politician-fighter like you must have seen plenty of unmaskings before. I tell you, I never had even the start of a fever cure. But my studies had taken me into some queer places, and it was just my damned luck to listen to the stories of some still queerer people who preach microbio death.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

It seems to be an effort to provide some reason for Schuyler’s mania with watching people die from the black fever, but the phrase makes so little sense in context it’s hard to see what the author was getting at. If that phrase was a survival from a previous Lovecraft draft, dropping it for the simpler obsession on the power of life and death over a patient seems much cleaner.

The searchers had found the place only because of the chanting and the final cry. It had been close to five that morning, and after an all-night encampment the party had begun to pack up for its empty-handed return to the mines. Then somebody had heard faint rhythms in the distance, and knew that one of the noxious old native rituals was being howled from some lonely spot up the slope of the corpse-shaped mountain. They heard the same old names—Mictlanteuctli, Tonatiuh-Metzli, Cthulhutl, Ya-R’lyeh, and all the rest—but the queer thing was that some English words were mixed with them. Real white man’s English, and no greaser patter. Guided by the sound, they had hastened up the weed-entangled mountainside toward it, when after a spell of quiet the shriek had burst upon them. It was a terrible thing—a worse thing than any of them had ever heard before. There seemed to be some smoke, too, and a morbid acrid smell.

Then they stumbled on the cave, its entrance screened by scrub mesquites, but now emitting clouds of fetid smoke. It was lighted within, the horrible altars and grotesque images revealed flickeringly by candles which must have been changed less than a half-hour before; and on the gravelly floor lay the horror that made all the crowd reel backward. It was Feldon, head burned to a crisp by some odd device he had slipped over it—a kind of wire cage connected with a rather shaken-up battery which had evidently fallen to the floor from a nearby altar-pot. When the men saw it they exchanged glances, thinking of the “automatic electric executioner” Feldon had always boasted of inventing—the thing which everyone had rejected, but had tried to steal and copy. The papers were safe in Feldon’s open portmanteau which stood close by, and an hour later the column of searchers started back for No. 3 with a grisly burden on an improvised stretcher.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “The Automatic Electric Executioner,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

Unlike “Surama of Atlantis,” the changes between the three texts of “The Automatic Electric Executioner”/“The Electric Executioner” are much more minor, although strangely a bit more complicated since there are three texts to work with, and in addition to the small but substantial changes, both of the typescripts in the de Castro Archive contain numerous typos and errors of spelling, as well as idiosyncratic formatting differences.

The 1930 text of “The Electric Executioner” in Weird Tales may be assumed to be the oldest of the texts; “The Automatic Electric Executioner” text is bound in a manuscript dated 1953, and may be assumed to be the newest. However, the undated, unbound typescript of “The Electric Executioner” does not sit neatly between the two; textually, the undated text and the Weird Tales text follow each other more closely than “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text, but the undated typescript contains several small but notable additions and rephrasing not in either of the other texts.

Most likely, this means that both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the unbound text of “The Electric Executioner” represent two different branches of transcription, both copied from the same source (either a copy of Weird Tales, or the typescript received from Lovecraft) and copied and altered at different times, without reference to one another. This would explain the differences and similarities between the three texts without requiring any hypothetical earlier drafts. (Why de Castro would type out “The Automatic Electric Executioner” fresh without making reference to the undated typescript, which has differences from the published version, is another questionbut not one with any ready answers.)

Of the substantial differences, they are few: the title of “The Automatic Electric Executioner” is a combination of “The Automatic Executioner” and “The Electric Executioner”; the story is set in 1899 in the standalone typescript of “The Electric Executioner” and 1889 in the others; the discovery of the body scene in “The Electric Executioner” is a bit longer, and there are some minor geographical differences.

S. T. Joshi in his annotations for this story notes that the San Mateo Mountains are actually in New Mexico; and this is apparently an error on Lovecraft’s part. De Castro’s “The Automatic Executioner” has the protagonist go to Mexico City, and from there towards Orizaba which is in the Sierra Madre Oriental range, although it is never named. “The Electric Executioner” standalone typescript has the nameless narrator headed both to Guadalajara and via Guadalajara to Mexico City—it isn’t clear why the change was made, but was obviously a bit of geographic confusion. In one text the narrator goes to the The Fonda Nacional (“National Inn”) and in the other to the Hotel Interbide; both were hotels in Mexico City. Why the change from one to the other is also unclear.

Something perhaps notable is that all three texts retain the odd racism against Mexicans expressed by Arthur Feldon in the story, which reflects something of Lovecraft’s own prejudices and understanding regarding Mexicans and Native Americans—a combination of racial and class prejudice. From De Castro’s other writings, he either agreed with these generally or at least appears to have felt no need to alter them, as the key phrases (“I hate greasers but I like Mexicans!” etc.) remain intact in every textual variation. Treatment of Mexican characters in “A Sacrifice to Science” (right down to using the slur “greaser”) would seem to suggest no major disagreement between de Castro and Lovecraft on the matter.

Aside from noting how difficult some of the Nahuatl and quasi-Nahuatl names appear to have been for de Castro to type, the most interesting part about the variations on “The Electric Executioner” is simply their existence. There isn’t any evidence that the undated typescript came from Lovecraft’s typewriter (at least, the number of typos would seem to argue against it, given Lovecraft’s punctiliousness), and the variations between the texts are comparatively minor. While it is not impossible that Lovecraft was responsible for some of the bits that don’t appear in the Weird Tales text, the changes are so small and affect so little of the story, compared to “Surama of Atlantis” that like as not the average reader would miss them on a read-through unless specifically pointed out.

As a point of hardcore Lovecraftian scholarship and nerdism, “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” provide interesting insight on how changes to Lovecraft stories can not work, and perhaps reflect on the difficult process of drafting and revision. That these stories have gone unpublished is perhaps not surprising; the audience for a variorum of such texts is small, and the rights would presumably remain with de Castro’s estate. But that they exist at all should interest and thrill Lovecraft fans: who knows what else may yet remain, in some dusty archive, or in an amateur journal not yet thoroughly picked-over?


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Automatic Executioner” (1891) & “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro

Dear Sir,

My friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, was kind enough to mention that you might be inclined to aid me in bringing out one or the other of my labors which sadly need revision.

If you can, please let me know and under what conditions we can co-operate. 

Yours sincerely,

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 20 Nov 1927,
Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others
 341

In 1927, an article was published in the Associated Press proposing new evidence for the demise of Ambrose Bierce. The source was Dr. Adolphe Danziger de Castro, who had picked up the gossip while down in Mexico. De Castro and Bierce had been friends for twenty-five years, and had collaborated on a translation of The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter (1891), and the Western Author’s Publishing Association which published de Castro’s collection of stories In the Confessional and the Following (1893), some of which had been previously published in newspapers and magazines. The friendship ended rather badly, with Bierce breaking his cane over de Castro’s head—but the article on Bierce achieved wide circulation, and de Castro smelled an opportunity:

Years and years ago I published a volume of short stories (now not to be had at any price, and Uncle Sam and myself are the only ones who have copies of the same) and if these stories could be licked into shape, I am certain they would be published. It all depends upon my literary godfather. Suppose I send you part of one of these stories just for a passing judgment whether you could be inclined to consider the matter, if all things become equal?
—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 25 Nov 1927, LAG 342

Lovecraft in 1927 was in Providence, Rhode Island; his effort to make his way in New York had failed, and so had his marriage, although his wife would not press him for a divorce until 1929. With no steady employment, Lovecraft and his friend Frank Belknap Long, Jr. did revision work for clients, re-writing stories and offering advice for modest fees. Their friend Samuel Loveman was not officially an agent, but steered potential clients their way: Zealia Brown Reed (Spirit of Revision 8-9) and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

Initially, de Castro was looking for one or two books of stories to be revised; there are some calculations on a letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 5 Dec 1927 to this effect (LAG 345). This quickly expanded as he suggested Lovecraft assist him in writing a memoir or biography titled Bierce and I, mentioned in a letter dated 8 Dec 1927. Lovecraft was wary: de Castro had no money to pay up front, and Lovecraft was in no financial position to take work on a speculative basis. At this point (December 1927), Lovecraft claims:

He’s too gordam fussy to make his work a paying proposition for me—for his fiction is unspeakable, his paying ability meagre, and his demands for revisions—after his first version—extensive. I about exploded over the dragging monotony of a silly thing which I renamed Clarendon’s Last Test; and after I wearily sent in the result of a whole month’s brain-fog, (incurred for a deplorable pittance!) the old reprobate shot it back with requests for extensive changes (based wholly on the new ideas I had injected!) which would have involved just as much work again, and without any additional fee. That was too much. I hurled the whole Hastur-hateful thing back at him—together with his measly cheque and a dollar bill to cover the postage he’d expended—but he took it all in good part, and returned the cheque and dollar with a laudably generous gesture! Now—after thinking it over—he decided to use the tale just as I fixed it up. Vaya con Dios, Don Adolfo—he’s one reviser who won’t raise any controversy by claiming authorship of the beastly mess! But I can’t tackle any more of his fiction. It raises a choking kind of mental “complex” preclusive of effort. I’ll consider his straight prose memoirs, but nothing where constructive art is concern’d.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, January 1928, Selected Letters 2.207-208

A letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 4 February 1928 confirms Lovecraft’s claims (LAG 347-348), and returns the check (for $16), begging Lovecraft to accept it.

The story in question began as “A Sacrifice to Science” in 1893; Lovecraft in his typical manner rewrote the whole story. For most readers, the interest in “A Sacrifice to Science” is as the bones on which “The Last Test” is built, and from that lens, the story is especially interesting because it is rare for us to have the “before” of a Lovecraft revision; most of his clients provided either only a plot-germ or synopsis, or the story is based on a draft that does not survive. Here, we have both the original story and the revision to compare.

“A Sacrifice to Science” is a turn-of-the-century thriller (that is isn’t very thrilling), very vaguely in the line of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more fantastic and better-composed tale of mad science such as Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), which had inspired Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light” (1894) or “The Novel of the White Powder” (1895). There is a germ of a solid idea there, but the plot and writing don’t develop any tension in the reader. The skeleton-like character of Mort feels almost allegorical—Death always at the doctor’s side—but he is ultimately very mortal indeed, and far less interesting in his role as Igor to Clinton’s Dr. Frankenstein.

In comparing “A Sacrifice to Science” and its revision, the surprising thing is how much of the essential story and its details Lovecraft retained as he transitioned it to the form of weird pulp fiction. All of the essentials of the plot are reproduced, only with more detail and drama given to events, and perhaps surprising for those who think them Lovecraft’s weakest points as a writer, more attention and focus on character motivation and dialogue. Many of the fine details are kept as well, such as the sister referring to the assistant as the doctor’s “evil genius,” and the outbreak of fever among the Mexican population—which is, perhaps surprisingly, more developed in de Castro’s original.

Study of this story also shows where some of the less Lovecraftian story beats in “The Last Test” come from. Georgina’s tendency to faint—a trait Lovecraft decried in Gothic heroines—comes from Alvira’s episodes. The jealous romantic triangle began with de Castro, it was Lovecraft that gave it the “Fall of the House of Usher” proportions of “The Last Test.” The curious reticence of Surama to handle the afflicted Dick must have its origins in Mort’s complaint at the toll taken on his dogs.

As was also typical, Lovecraft sent a handwritten manuscript, and wished for no changes to what he wrote, to which de Castro wrote in reply:

I haven’t as yet had the time to look up Mr. Long. And mentioning Mr. Long recalls that I have never asked you if, in your opinion “Clarendon’s Last Test” is likely to have a market. I shall not make any changes in the story, but when it is typewritten I shall send it on its rounds, and le bon Dieu peut savoir if it will find some one to take it. The horror story isn’t much in demand now, I fancy.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 Feb 1928, LAG 349

Despite this promise to not make any changes, apparently de Castro did:

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

With my own suffering fingers I finished last night the copying on the typewriter of THE LAST TEST, and don’t know whether to send you an abrazo – a brotherly embrace – or, you, being so much younger than I, to give you my fatherly blessing for what you did for me; for the more I read the story the more I find that it has “workmanship” and a masterly touch.

For a moment I wanted to send you the story as I copied it, thinking you might perhaps elect to change a word here and there, as your own judgment should direct, and then I said to myself “Lovecraft’s eye has missed little as he went over it ‘scratching'” and I sent the story to “Weird Tales” at Indianapolis.

You will notice that I underscored the words “as I copied it”, meaning thereby that I took the liberty to write a phrase or use a word as I had been taught by Ambrose Bierce. These are: the word ‘persons’ for people. The latter referring to the people of a city, county, state or nation, the former referring to individuals, – “there were a number of persons” and not “people”; or many people for many persons. The second is a Biercean doctrine that a sentence ought never to begin with a negative assertion of something denoting a positive, and vice versa, such as: “I don’t believe Jim cares for it”; whereas it should be “I believe Jim doesn’t care for it”, which is really the essence of the assumption or belief. In other words: we believe a thing is or is not, it is our attitude in the matter, but if we say we don’t believe, we establish a non-attitude (although it might equally be a non-believing attitude) in the case where a positive is concerned.

I am very eager to hear your opinion in the matter, comprehending, of course, that idiomatic form or usage is, excepted.

I confess that your entire review of the matter relative to the story is correct, although I do not regret to have written you as I did, since it brought forth your most illuminative letter. And what is more, Egad! I really like the story.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Apr 1928, LAG 353

Lovecraft’s chagrin at this turn of events must be imagined; his response does not appear to survive. As Lovecraft’s manuscript does not survive, it is not clear what changes de Castro made, although it seems it was he who changed it from “Clarendon’s Last Test” to “The Last Test.” Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, could likely not help but notice the references to Lovecraft’s Mythos embedded in the story. Nevertheless, the story was accepted for $175.00, and duly appeared in the November 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Whatever the changes de Castro introduced, they could not have been extensive, for Lovecraft commented:

Old de Castro’s story that I revised is in the current Weird Tales. It doesn’t look so bad now. The element of Atlantean mystery is wholly of my own introducing. De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 27 Oct 1928, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165

In June 1929, de Castro was again asking Lovecraft to revise his 1893 stories (ES1.196), and as before, eventually agreed to Lovecraft’s terms of cash in advance:

I am just now confronting a damnable revision job from old De Castro—the Bierce satellite & biographer—who has made delay impossible by paying in advance! Consider me, then, as lost in chaos & woe for the next couple of weeks. It is like what I did for him in 1927-8—doctoring up some fictional junk he wrote in 1893. The old boy is going abroad on the 10th, & wants the work delivered while he is in London.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 8 Jul 1929, Essential Solitude1.200

The de Castro story in question was “The Automatic Executioner,” which was first published in The Wave, 14 Nov 1891. As before, Lovecraft completely rewrote the story, although keeping the essential plot and most of the names, and hewing closer to de Castro’s original plot, Lovecraft still added in references to his artificial mythology.

In one sense, “The Automatic Executioner” is an example of one of the earliest and most prominent modes of science fiction: gadget fiction. Thomas Alva Edison was still the wizard of Menlo Park in the 1890s, inventors like Alexander Graham Bell were honored as heroes. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells postulated on technological advances and their potential impact, and the basic idea of a new invention that revolutionizes the world—and the inventor that receives fame for it—was still current well into the 1920s and 30s, when writers like Robert E. Howard tried their hand at it with stories like “The Iron Terror.”

At the same time, the story is not strictly gadget fiction. The invention (Chekov’s noose, as it were) is only one part of a story which involves suggestions of hypnotism and astral projection, relatively occult concepts for what otherwise might be a “pseudo-scientific” story in 1920s pulp parlance. When compared to “A Sacrifice to Science,” it makes a kind of sense that Lovecraft had far less to add or change to the original tale—his principal changes being to turn the “automatic electric executioner” from an electric noose down to a portable electrocution device, and to transform the nature and depiction of Feldon’s madness. In this, Lovecraft incorporated elements of indigenous Mexican religion, his own artificial Mythos, and a curious encounter that Lovecraft himself had on a train:

The journey was made amusing by the presence in the seat beside me of a slightly demented German—a well-drest and respectable-looking fellow whom I had observ’d at the tavern reading a German paper before the start of the coach. He shew’d no signs of his affliction till we reach’d a sort of stagnant mill-pond near Newark, in New-jersey, when suddenly he burst forth the the question, “iss diss der Greadt Zalt Lake?” deeming the inquiry address to me, I reply’d that I scarcely thought his identification correct; whereupon he reliev’d me of all responsibility by remarking in a far-off, sententious voice—“I vassn’t talkingk to you; I vass shooter leddingk my light shine!” Properly rebuk’d for my officious desire to give information, I held my peace and permitted my seatmate to illuminate without hindrance. After a time he became vocal again, confiding to the empty air ahead, “I’m radiating all der time, und nopotty knows it!”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Travels in the Provinces of America” (1929) in Collected Essays 2.34

Lovecraft also expanded upon Feldon’s motivations for stealing the papers, which de Castro does not go into, an attempt to provide at least a moderately stronger explanation for the experience in the train car, and Feldon’s death—since de Castro leaves him alive at the end, while Lovecraft makes sure the executioner executes. What Lovecraft probably didn’t know is that de Castro was himself an inventor—he had patents for incandescent electric lamps and X-ray tubes—so possibly de Castro knew something of the paranoia of the inventor at getting scooped, and the singular obsession that Feldon expressed, the pride in the technical details of its working. More curious are the bits that Lovecraft left out: the name of the protagonist and his betrothed (and her position as editor of a newspaper, if that was not a spur-of-the-moment lie) and Feldon’s background so that he was never a sheriff in Montreal.

Being a nebulous mix of genres, it’s possible that de Castro could have sold this story to The Black Cat in the 1910s, or even possibly the earliest issues of Amazing Stories or Weird Tales—but there is no denying that the language is often stilted, and by the late 1920s badly needed the updated that Lovecraft provided if it was to have any hope of getting published. That Lovecraft wrote it with Weird Tales in mind seems almost certain; it might have found a home at Wonder Stories, but that would have meant dealing with Hugo Gernsback, whose reputation for non-payment Lovecraft was well aware of by 1929.

“The Electric Executioner” was accepted rather promptly by the end of February 1930 (ES1.249), and would be published in the August 1930 Weird Tales. This caused at least one reader to inquire:

Adolph de Castro, I note, mentions these gods, places, or whatever they are, only the spelling is different, as Cthulhutl, Yog Sototl. Both you and he, I believe, use the phrase fhtaghn.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 9 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.37

The reasons for its echoes in Dr. de Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine—into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 14 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.40

Lovecraft apparently also explained this to Farnsworth Wright:

I suppose he was curious about getting stories from several authors—Heald, de Castro, Reed &c (besides parts of mss. From Barlow, Bloch, Rimel, &c)—which contained earmarks of my style.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William Lumley, 14 Nov 1935, Selected Letters 5.207

Lovecraft did apparently revise a third tale for de Castro, and it was sold to Farnsworth Wright for Strange Stories, a magazine projected to be published alongside Weird Tales, much as Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet would be, but legal troubles with the name prevented the magazine from coming out, and this revision is believed to be lost.

Since their publication in 1928 and 1930, the only extant versions of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” have been the versions published in Weird Tales, which were eventually published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949, Arkham House), and afterward became accepted publicly as Lovecraft revisions or ghostwriting jobs and subsequently reprinted in many other places.

However, this was not quite the end of the story. In 1953 when de Castro was 94 years old, he had bound a typed manuscript titled Surama of Atlantis and The Horror In A Mexican Train Plus Narrative Poems; the two lead stories “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are variants of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner,” respectively, differing sometimes slightly and in other places markedly from the Weird Tales text. De Castro’s papers, now at the American Jewish Archives, also contain an undated typescript of “The Electric Executioner” with small variations from both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text. For more on these, please see the companion post on “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

“A Sacrifice to Science” and “The Automatic Executioner” are in the public domain, and may be read online for free here. They have also been reprinted in the variorum edition of Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction, Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations) (2017), alongside “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test.”


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

One Who Walked Alone (1986) by Novalyne Price Ellis

Then he told me about the fan mail he’d gotten. He had received letters from somebody in England; one from Australia; letters from several diffrent states like California, Pennsylvania, and far away places like that. He talked about writer friends of his—Price, Lovecraft, Derleth whose name I had seen in a writer’s magazine, and other people I’d never heard of. They wrote to him and he wrote to them. It all sounded interesting and was, I guess, a world far removed from Cross Plains. Although it was interesting, it didn’t make writing as a profession appeal to me. I want to write, but I also want to be in the thick of life around me.
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 116

In May of 1933, Novalyne Price graduated from Daniel Baker College in Brownwood, TX. The Great Depression had settled on Texas, and jobs were scarce—especially for college-educated women. She found a job forty miles away in a small town called Cross Plains, as a schoolteacher in English and public speaking at the local highschool. At a time when many small towns were paying their teachers with scrip, the Cross Plains paid cash…though it did come with certain expectations.

No smoking. No drinking (Prohibition had just ended). No dancing, movies, or playing bridge with members of the faculty. Teachers were expected to live in town, and go to church in town every Sunday. Her response was visceral:

I want a cigarette, and I want a glass of beer. I can’t stand the stuff. I hate it as much as the Board of Trustees do, but I want a cigarette, and I want a beer.
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 36

Above all, Novalyne Price wanted to be a writer. There was one in town. His name was Robert E. Howard.

One Who Walked Alone (1986) is drawn from the diaries Novalyne kept of Cross Plains from 1934 until 1936, when she left to begin graduate courses in Louisiana. The entries are edited, probably a little censored here or there to spare a feeling or two from those still alive at the time it was published and to keep focused on her relationship, but revealing nonetheless. The relationship was not the soul of romance; Robert E. Howard was a successful writer, and tried to help Novalyne with her writing, even putting him in touch with his agent Otis Adelbert Kline—but their interests in writing were very different things. Early on during a date, when Bob was driving her out in the country in his car, she explained the plot of the story “I Gave My Daughter Movie Fame”:

“A woman has an illegitimate child, a daughter, and she tries to make it up to her. The child is adopted by this aunt of hers. But the woman can’t give up. She keeps doing things for the girl. Finally, she helps the gil become a movie star and very famous.”

Which I was talking, I could see that Bob was trying very hard to keep from laughing. But what was even strangter to me was that the more I talked, the more it became sort of cock-eyed even to me. I didn’t knwo what it took to win movie fame. True, I read movie success stories in magazines. I went to the movies once in awhile. I knew when the acting was good or bad. Did that qualify me to write about movie fame? As for illegitimate children—Well, when I was growing up, two girls whom I knew had illegitimate children. Did that qualify me to know about things like that?
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 60

Novalyne’s memoir draws attention because of the Robert E. Howard connection, and it delivers in that regard with many colorful and critical anecdotes; though she was never his wife or even his fiance, it is more intimate and revealing in many ways than The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis is of Howard’s friend in Providence.

Yet the main character is Novalyne herself, and she does not blush to hide her own flaws. The Novalyne of 1934-1936 is a young woman in a world that expects everything of her except to have a life of her own. She herself has more than a few expectations, and her relationship with Bob Howard waxes and wanes as the two willful individuals circle between kissing and butting heads again and again. The prospect of marriage hangs over the relationship as it goes on, but there are obstacles: Howard’s mother, dying slowly as her disease consumes her; Howard’s status as an outsider in the small town of Cross Plains; and Novalyne herself, who also dates some of Howard’s friends at the same time, and can’t quite make up her mind who she loves.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the young Novalyne Price a little; she’s a flint that strikes sparks off Bob, able to give as good as she gets, though sometimes her barbs sting a little deep. One exchange from late in their relationship can’t help but raise a smile:

“In a way, I suppose I want to make it a love story,” I said, thinking and planning as I talked. “But I want the woman to have a man-sized man to love. I was thinking that someone—a young woman—from another state who had an illegitimate child—”

“What are you always thinking about illegitimate children?” he asked. “How many illegitimate children have you had?”

“A dozen,” I snapped. “One every thirty days.”

He grinned and relaxed a little. “I suppose if any woman could do it, you could.”
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 155-156

More serious conversations dealt with racial prejudice. Although never marked as such, Cross Plains was a sundown town in the Jim Crow days; Brownwood had an African-American population, but that was restricted to a part of the small city called “The Flat.” Howard, though more liberal and progressive in some issues, still held to racial prejudices that Novalyne did not.

“Every man has to uphold his race and protect his women and children,” Bob said earnestly. “He has to build the best damn world he can. You mix and mingle the races, and what do you get? You get a mongrel race—a race that’s not white and not black.”

It seemed to me he was leaving out something important. “Very well, then,” I said flatly. “If a man’s going to fight to keep his race pure, don’t let him go down to the flat and leave a half-white, half-black child down there.”

Bob jerked the steering wheel so abruptly that we almost ran off the road. “Well, damn it,” he groaned. “There’s something there that you don’t understand.”
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 95-96

Novalyne’s views may have been influenced in part by her own experiences; her father had been mistaken for a Native American and subject to prejudice by Texans, and Bob’s mother herself supposedly wondered if she had any Native American heritage, with the prejudice unspoken but not hidden.

As a diarist, Novalyne Price was no Samuel Pepys; and we may assume that many of the incidental details of life were quietly edited out. Sometimes, this leaves little mysteries. In April 1935, Novalyne was briefly hospitalized following acute nausea, vomiting, and weight loss; the exact nature of her illness is never discussed in detail, leaving readers to make their own conclusions.

As a young woman, and never becoming truly intimate with Howard’s homelife, there are things that Novalyne gets wrong. She is an accurate reporter of facts, with many of the details she gives being verifiable by Howard’s letters (most of which had not been published at the time One Who Walked Alone was out), and newspaper articles in the local paper, the Cross Plains Review. Interpretation, however, doesn’t always follow: the illness of Hester Jane Howard was much more severe and fraught than Novalyne guessed—and frustration at Bob’s doting on his mother’s health is one of the key issues in their relationship.

Howard himself wrote very little about Novalyne in his letters. His local friends would no doubt prefer to hear about it in person; most of his writer friends simply didn’t share details of their relationships at all. H. P. Lovecraft never appears to have told his Texas friend that he had been married, during all their six years of correspondence.

Several times, Bob has shown me letters he’s gotten from fans of his. He had one from Providence and one from New York just the other day. They have all been nice letters, and I can understand his pride.
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 128

One thing that might frustrate those who pick up Ellis’ book with the intent on getting a behind-the-scenes look at how Robert E. Howard wrote, or his relationships with other pulpsters, is that this is specifically the part of Bob’s life that Novalyne seemed to have the least interest in. There are a few anecdotes scattered about, proof of Lovecraft’s influence on Howard, but Novalyne’s interests in literature were so vastly different that the Weird Tales and Sports Story material seemed to be completely out of her sphere.

“Bob,” I interrupted him. “Do you mean that writer friend of yours—that Lovecourt—”

“Lovecraft,” he repeated, still emphatic. “One of the greatest writers of our time. Now, girl, I’ll bring some of the things he’s written for you to read if—”

“Oh, no,” I said hurriedly. “That’s perfectly all right. I don’t want—I don’t really have time to read very much right now, with teaching and trying to get kids ready for interscholastic speech contests.”

He looked at me without speaking as if he were trying to make up his mind if I meant what I said.

“All I wanted to know was what kind of comment about life does he make?” I asked. “And I want to know what kind of comment you make about life in your Conan stories.”
—Novalyne Price Ellis, One Who Walked Alone (1986) 116

The book ends, as all memoirs of Robert E. Howard end, with his sudden suicide. However, as this is Novalyne’s story, things do not end right at the moment she got the news. As with all suicides, the story continues on with the survivor, the loved ones and friends, who must carry on until they find some kind of closure. So did Novalyne Price.

The unspoken epilogue is what happened after. Novalyne Price received her master’s degree, got married, adopted a son, taught school, and wrote a little when she could. She was an excellent teacher, and her students often won awards. Robert E. Howard’s star began to shine brighter posthumously; a series of hardbacks from Gnome Press in the 1950s gave way to an immensely popular series of paperbacks with covers by Frank Frazetta, the “Howard Boom” of the 60s which inspired dozens of sword & sorcery novels and ushered in a new wave of fantasy. Marvel Comics began adapting his characters to comic books in the 1970s, and in 1982 Conan the Barbarian hit movie screens.

The study of his life and letters slowly picked up. Novalyne Price Ellis was one of those interviewed by the de Camps for Dark Valley Destiny (1983), a biography of Robert E. Howard. As with Sonia H. Davis and H. P. Lovecraft, Novalyne’s views of Bob were not universally welcomed by the biographers:

If the lady you mention published a well-documented book, On Sinning with R.E.H., she might outsell you, unless the oafery seize & destroy her scurilous volume. It is to laugh! I knew him when is not sufficient. One must also write for other than dizzy fans.
—E. Hoffmann Price to L. Sprague de Camp, 7 Apr 1978
in The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard 308

E. Hoffmann Price (no relation to Novalyne) was a fellow pulpster and correspondent who had visited Robert E. Howard twice in Cross Plains (neither time meeting Novalyne), and wrote extended memoirs, published in several places. De Camp appears to have used his recollections to “check” Novalyne’s own assertions, much as August Derleth used Lovecraft’s letters to “check” the claims made by Sonia H. Davis.

Letters never tell the whole story. Especially the parts that the writers don’t care to tell.

One Who Walked Alone was published in 1986. Novaylne Price Ellis stayed in touch with some of the Howard scholars, and a briefer and rarer reminiscence was published titled Day of the Stranger: Further Memories of Robert E. Howard (1989, Necronomicon Press), now quite scarce.

A former student of hers, Michael Scott Myers, was so taken with her memoir that he optioned the rights from her for a film. The result was The Whole Wide World (1996), with Renee Zellweger playing the part of Novalyne Price, and Vincent D’Onofrio as Robert E. Howard. A second edition of One Who Walked Alone was published in 1996, with Zellweger featured prominently on the cover, though they are effectively identical.

In 2018, an Index with notes to the book was produced, and given away free at Robert E. Howard Days, which is held at the Robert E. Howard House and Museum in Cross Plains. It is available online for free here.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

¿Donde Duermes, Elderado? Y Otros Poemas (1964) by Clérigo Herrero

Am pulling out of a bad physical slump and have not done too much work, apart from the writing of poems in Spanish, some of which I hope to place sooner or later with Latin-American periodicals. They have been checked over by a good Spanish professor, who did not find too much to correct.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 31 March 1950, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 364

English was the language of Weird Tales during its first run (1923-1954), though stories might have snippets of any number of languages, natural, artificial, and fictional.

Neither H. P. Lovecraft nor Robert E. Howard were ever fluent in Spanish, though both of them were at least somewhat familiar with it. The evidence for Lovecraft’s knowledge is fairly slight: the two passages in his story “The Mound,” which had been ghostwritten for Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, both of which are largely accurate (the final portion was deliberately designed to appear somewhat crude); Lovecraft’s library included a copy of Ollendorff’s New Method of Learning to Read, Write, and Speak the Spanish Language (Lovecraft’s Library 139), which may have served him as a reference. Lovecraft also used Spanish openings and closings to some of his letters to Bernard Austin Dwyer in 1928 (during the period “The Mound” was written, and when Lovecraft recounted his dream of Roman Hispania), signing himself once “Luis Randolfo Cartero y Teobaldo” (LMM 468)

Robert E. Howard’s knowledge of Spanish was probably more utilitarian. In at least a casual way, he had picked up at least a small stock of Spanish and Mexican words—exclamations, terms of address, names of food and drink. Certainly, when Spanish-speaking characters appear in his stories their English dialogue tends to be sprinkled with a few choice Spanish terms, although sometimes with some peculiarities of spelling; a common technique when Howard wanted to express something of the rural or uneducated nature of the speaker, though it’s hard to tell sometimes if he is doing it on purpose or not, as he seems to have dropped this tendency in Spanish relatively quickly. So, for example, in “Red Shadows” (1928) he writes “Senhor,” in “Winner Take All” (1930) he writes “Senyor,” but in “The Horror from the Mound” (1932) he writes “Señor.”

In late 1948 or early 1949, Smith learned Spanish, made his first translations of Spanish poetry, and wrote his first poems in Spanish.
—Donald Sidney-Fryer, “A Memoir of Timeus Gaylord: reminsicences of Two Visits with Clark Ashton Smith, &c.” in The Romanticist #2 (1978) 3

Smith had already taught himself French from dictionaries and grammars in the 1920s; Lovecraft would praise his translations of Baudelaire. A decade after the death of Howard and Lovecraft, Smith would do the same with Spanish. All three men shared a love of language and poetry, and were autodidacts, but Smith was the only one of the three to attempt anything like fluency in Spanish, at least to the point of translating and composing poetry in that language.

His hopes of being published in that language do not appear to have been fulfilled during his lifetime, although some of his translations of Spanish poetry from Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, José A. Calcaño, and José Santos Chocano (“El Cantor de América”) did see print in zines and his poetry collections, and some of the English translations of his Spanish poems also appeared in his Arkham House poetry collections—including a translation or two of “Clérigo Herrero,” Smith’s Spanish pen-name (“Cleric Smith”—Clark, clerk, cleric).

After Smith’s death in 1961, his widow attempted to continue to publish his work, and selling some of his letters and manuscripts in conjunction with letterpress printer and bookdealer Roy A. Squires. One of these projects was the small pamphlet ¿Donde Duermes, Elderado? Y Otros Poemas (1964), done entirely in Spanish, publishing eight of his poems as by Clérigo Herrero. The colophon says this printing was only 160 copies, although the bibliographies say 176.

Donde-inside

Typescripts of some of his other Spanish poems, discovered after this printing, were published in Shadows Seen & Unseen (2007), showing something of his process:

SSU-sample

For long decades, the Spanish poetry of Clark Ashton Smith was relatively unavailable: published far apart in limited editions. Today it has all been republished as part of the Collected Poetry and Translations of Clark Ashton Smith (2012) …and it is a testament to one of the great voices of Weird Tales to extend himself this way, to explore and express himself in another language. Because there is far more to this world than just the English language.

El mundo es el suyo,
El sol es el tuyo,
La luna es la mía.

The world is yours,
The sun is thine,
The moon is mine.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray

“He had not read in vain such treatises as Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe; and knew that up to recent years there had certainly survived among peasants and furtive folk a frightful and clandestine system of assemblies and orgies descended from dark religions antedating the Aryan world, and appearing in popular legends as Black Masses and Witches’ Sabbaths.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Horror at Red Hook”

“The other manuscript papers were all brief notes, some of them accounts of the queer dreams of different persons, some of them citations from theosophical books and magazines (notably W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria), and the rest comments on long-surviving secret societies and hidden cults, with references to passages in such mythological and anthropological source-books as Frazer’s Golden Bough and Miss Murray’s Witch-Cult in Western Europe.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

I took a good deal of it at college, and am familiar with most of the standard authorities such as Tylor, Lubbock, Frazer, Quatrefages, Murray, Osborn, Keith, Boule, G. Elliot Smith, and so on.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Margaret Alice Murray was 58 and already a successful Egyptologist when she published The Witch-Cult in Western Europe: A Study in Anthropology in 1921. On the strength of that book, she wrote the article on Witchcraft for the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1929, which remained in print in various editions until 1969. The influence of that book—and its sequel, The God of the Witches (1931)—has profoundly impacted how entire generations have come to see witchcraft. And it played a critical part in the development of the Lovecraft Mythos.

The book has an odd place in the Mythos. Certainly, Lovecraft was inspired by it, and Murray’s thesis as interpreted through Lovecraft’s own lens strongly influenced “The Festival,” “The Dreams in the Witch House,” and other stories. He included it among other real works in “The Horror at Red Hook” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” so it is technically a kind of Mythos tome, although not by any stretch a grimoire akin to the Necronomicon. Subsequent authors have borrowed on its dual status as both a real book and a “Mythos” work as well.

So while never writing a Mythos story or probably reading anything that Lovecraft wrote, Margaret Murray and her Witch-Cult in Western Europe are in the rare position of being adopted into the Mythos. She shares this status with a few others: Robert W. Chambers and The King in Yellow, Helena Blavatsky and The Book of Dzyan. Yet Murray’s impact on Lovecraft was profoundly greater than the mythology of Hastur or Theosophy. It began in 1924, at the New York Public Library:

The most revealing and stupefying book among those I have been reading is “The Witch Cult in Western Europe”, by Margaret Alice Murray, which was published in 1921 and reviewed with great attention by Burton Rascoe in the Tribune. In this book the problem of witchcraft superstition is attacked from an entirely new angle—wherein the explanation of delusion and hysteria is discarded in favour of an hypothesis almost exactly like the one used by Arthur Machen in fiction [marginal note: The Three Impostors]—i.e. that there has existed since prehistoric times, side by side with the dominant religion, a dark, secret, and terrible system of worship nocturnally practiced by the peasants and including the most horrible rites and incantations. This worship, Miss Murray believes, is handed down from the squat Mongoloid peoples who inhabited Europe before the coming of the Aryans; and reflects the life and thought of a barbarous culture in which stockbreeding had not yet been supplanted by agriculture. This latter feature is clear from the dates of the two great nocturnal feasts and orgies… Roodmas, or April 30, and Hallowe’en, or October 31—dates having a connexion with nothing whatever in agriculture (unlike such agricultural festivals as Easter, Harvest-home, etc.), but corresponding with uncanny fidelity to the breeding-seasons of the flocks and herds. Buttressed by an amazing array of sound documentary evidence taken from witchcraft trial reports, Miss Murray unhesitatingly asserts that the similarities and consistencies in the testimony of witch-suspects cannot be explained on any assumption save one which allows for a certain amount of actuality. In her mind, practically all the confessions treat not of dreams and delusions, but form highly coloured versions of real meetings and ceremonies conducted in deep woods and lonely places betwixt midnight and dawn, attended by secretly annotated peasants stolen thither one by one, and presided over by local cult-leaders clad in animal skins and called the “Devils” of their particular branches or “Covens”. The hideous nature of the cult-rites is amply attested—and the whole subject takes on a new fascination when one reflects that the system probably survived to comparatively recent times. Miss Murray has no difficulty in tracing the cult’s presence in the Salem witchcraft of 1692, and entures to name the Reverend George Burroughs as “Devil” of the particular branch or Coven involved. Cotton Mather thus stands vindicated, and displayed as the suppressor of a movement involving the most loathsome and offensive practices. Another point of interest is the association of Joan of Arc with the witch-cult—a circumstance which makes one weep less at her fiery martyrdom. The use of this newly unearthed lore in a study of American superstition will be quite new, so that I really believe my book will have some degree of interest if it is ever suffered to materialise.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 30 Mar 1924, Letters from New York 53-54

The book never materialized, but Lovecraft melded Murray’s hypothesis of an underground witch-cult practicing remnants of a pagan religion and married it to the idea of primitive pre-human survivals and their connection with fairies (“the Little People”) in the fiction of Arthur Machen (which he had also lately been reading), and formed his own theory of history—which would go on to inform much of his fiction. Not for nothing would Richard Upton Pickman in “Pickman’s Model” have a Salem Village ancestor hanged for witchcraft in 1692, or that Joseph Curwen would flee from there to Providence, R. I. in the annals of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

The combination of Machen and Murray was assisted by Murray including in her work certain euhemeristic ideas and scientific racialism:

The dwarf race which at one time inhabited Europe has left few concrete remains, but it has survived in innumerable stories of fairies and elves. Nothing, however, is known of the religious beliefs and cults of these early people, except the fact that every seven years they made a human sacrifice to their god—‘And aye at every seven years they pay the teind to hell’—and that like the Khonds they stole children from the neighbouring races and brought them up to be the victims. That there was a strong connexion between witches and fairies had been known to all students of fairy lore. I suggest that the cult of the fairy or primitive race survived until less than three hundred years ago, and that the people who practised it were known as witches. I have already pointed out that many of the witch-belief and practices coincide with those of an existing dwarf race, viz. the Lapps.
—Margaret Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, 238

The Sámi people (historically Lapps, Laplanders) are an indigenous people in Northern Europe; racial anthropologists in Lovecraft’s time categorized them as “Mongoloid” (along with Asians and Native Americans) as opposed to the majority population of Europe which was “Caucasoid.” Although this was not the primary focus of Murray’s work, Lovecraft took this as concrete scientific evidence to support his existing prejudices. Along with Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (1890), Murray’s book offers what in the 1920s seemed a very rational, dogmatic, albeit radical re-interpretation of a chunk of European (and at least one episode of American) history.

Not everyone accepted The Witch-Cult in Western Europe as genuine; Jacqueline Simpson in Margaret Murray: Who Believed Her and Why? chronicles some of the academic blowback, including Murray’s misrepresentation and misinterpretation of sources. Lovecraft was at best peripherally aware of this academic debate, with two exceptions:

The witch-cult was an objective example of that element of reaction against mediaeval piety which appears in certain leering gargoyles & in various sinister undertones in literary & other art. As for its origin—I am wholly against Summers & with Miss Murray. Summers has let his serious acceptance of Christianity bias him. He is blind to dozens of points of resemblance betwixt witch-cult practices (especially festival dates) & primitive-reliques of Nature-worship all over Europe, & makes a very weak argument in his earlier witchcraft book which Koenig lent me.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Nov 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 484

The theories of Miss Murray regarding the source of the cult have been attacked from different angles by scholars as antipodal as Joseph McCabe & the Rev. Montague Summers, but I still think they are as plausible as any yet advanced. You will, I think, appreciate “The White People” anew upon giving it a post-Murray re-reading.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Fritz Leiber, 19 Dec 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 302

Joseph McCabe was a noted atheist, and while Lovecraft doesn’t cite the exact work in question, McCabe made a glowing endorsement of Murray and her book in The Story of Religious Controversy (1929). Montague Summers also addressed Murray’s book at some length in The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (1926), commenting at one point:

Miss Murray does not seem to suspect that Witchcraft was in truth a foul and noisome heresy, the poison of the Manichees. Her “Dianic cult,” which name she gives to this “ancient religion” supposed to have survived until the Middle Ages and even later and to have been a formidable rival to Christianity, is none other than black heresy and the worship of Satan, no primitive belief with pre-agricultural rites, in latter days persecuted, misinterpreted, and misunderstood. It is true that in the Middle Ages Christianity hadnot a rival but a foe, the eternal enemy of the Church Militant against whom she yet contends to-day, the dark Lord of that city which is set contrariwise to the City of God, the Terrible Shadow of destruction and despair.

Miss Murray with tireless industry has accumulated a vast number of details by the help of which she seeks to build up and support her imaginative thesis. Even those that show the appropriation by the cult of evil of the more hideous heath practices, both of lust and cruelty, which prevailed among savage or decadent peoples, afford no evidence whatsoever of any continuity of an earlier relgiion, whilst by far the greater number of the facts she quotes are deflected, although no doubt unconsciously, and sharply wrested so as to be patent of the sginification it is endeavoured to read into them. (ibid. 32-33)

Summers’ critique is undercut by his belief that witches were both Satanic and had magical powers; McCabe’s because his antipathy toward religion led him to be too credulous in accepting Murray’s thesis wholeheartedly. While scholars, neither were academics or anthropologists. Lovecraft himself in another letter suggests that Murray’s book is “probably about 85% right” (Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 463)

There is no reference in Lovecraft’s published letters to Murray’s sequel, The God of the Witches (1931); he apparently never read it, and perhaps never heard of it. Murray herself has very little to say about her witch-research in her autobiography:

Though my Witch Cult in Western Europe did not appear till 1921 the greater part of the research had been done during the war. The book received a hostile reception from many strictly christian sects and reviewers, but it made its way in spite of oppostion.

My second book on the same subejct, which is really on the survival of pagan beliefs and rites under a veneer of Christianity, was The God of the Witches. It was a flop and was remaindered in two years. But it was the 1939-45 war that made it known. I think because it was a change from the monotony of the kind of books that are published in and just after a a war. Also as a remainder it was cheap, selling at five shillings.

My view of Joan of Arc roused, and still rouses, fierce opposition. I am not usually a fighter, but when I am attacked with words like “I don’t believe one word you say about Joan of Arc,” I have to defend myself.

I have one effective reply which is, “Have you studied the original documents?” I have always found that these ardent worshippers have to acknowledge, when pressed, that they have not read anything of the kind. then I retort, “Well, I have,” and I reel off the names of the contemporary recorders (and there are a good many of them) while my critic’s eyes get rounder and rounder. I wind up by saying, “It is hardly woht while to continue the discussion, is it? For you and I have such different standpoints. I argue from contemporary documentary evidence, and you from hearsay.” the book was re-published after the war and has proved a best seller.
—Margaret Murray, My First Hundred Years (1963), 104-105

The Lovecraftian legacy of Margaret Murray is embodied in “witch-haunted Arkham” in all of its incarnations, in the “Dreams in the Witch House” and the witch-cult in general that appears in works such as “The Festival” and “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Works inspired directly by Lovecraft in this vein include “The Salem Horror” (1937) by Henry Kuttner, “Satan’s Servants” (1949) by Robert Bloch, and the graphic novel Providence (2015-2107) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe is referenced by name in Mythos stories such as “The Fairground Horror” (1976) by Brian Lumley and “A Critical Commentary on the Necronomicon” (1988) by Robert M. Price.

The long tail of Murray’s influence on fantasy fiction encompasses more than just Lovecraft and those he influenced. Herbert Gorman in “The Place Called Dagon” (1927), which Lovecraft read, shows a survival of the Salem witch-cult; so does the film I Married A Witch (1942), Fritz Leiber’s novel Conjure Wife (1943), etc. all the way to Lords of Salem (2013) and American Horror Story: Coven (2014). Her books were a direct inspiration for the creation of Wicca by Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, and the prolific occult literature produced from those fertile grounds has, in turn, influenced a great deal of horror and weird fiction…and, of course, Lovecraftian occultism:

In the west, the conjuration, cultivation, or worship of this Power was strenuously opposed with the advent of the Solar, Monotheistic religions and those who clung to the Old Ways were effectively extinguished. The wholesale salughter of those called “Witches” during the Inquisition is an example of this […] The current revival of the cult called WICCA is a manifestation of the ancient secret socieities that sought to tap this telluric, occult force and use it to their own advantage, and to the advantage of humanity, as was the original intent.
—Simon, Necronomicon xxii

Anthropology has pushed back and moved on. Outside of occult circles, there is no strong belief that Murray’s “witch-cult” actually existed. Historians and anthropologists have a better understanding of witch trials in the early modern period, both in Europe and the Americas. Instead of an organized pagan survival, there is a mess of politics, religion, folklore, and disparate human dramas and tragedies.

What does that mean for the Mythos?

For the most part, Mythos fiction reflects the syntax of the period. The Salem Witch Trials are a part of the history of Massachusetts; Lovecraft himself never attributes any of the innocent victims of that hysteria as actual witches in his fiction, instead he added fictional characters such as Keziah Mason and Joseph Curwen to the milieu. These characters and their stories are dependent on the historical reality of the witch trials, but the interpretation of that history is still up to contemporary authors and audiences.

The “cult” of the Stella Sapiente in Moore & Burrows’ Providence, for example, looks very little like the 13-member covens that Margaret Murray wrote about in The Witch-Cult of Western Europe, but it retains certain features derived from Murray that feature in Lovecraft’s work. The image of Nyarlathotep as the “Black Man” of the witch-cult remains intact in many Mythos stories, and is derived directly from Murray and Machen as discussed in “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr.

So Margaret Murray and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe remain a historical touchstone for the Mythos. Both a part of it and oddly apart from it. The book is not “canon” in the sense that its ideas are absolutely true within the fictional reality of the Mythos, yet it is in the canon of works which directly influenced and are referenced by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, alongside The King in Yellow and The Book of Dzyan, Arthur Machen’s The Three Imposters, etc.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Cosmic Horror” (1945) by Dorothy Tilden Spoerl

Lovecraft’s tales fascinate me, but they do not frighten.
—Dorothy Tilden Spoerl, “Cosmic Horror” in The Ghost #3 (1945)

The Ghost was an amateur journal published by Lovecraft’s friend W. Paul Cook; it had a very small print run, and was never sold. The contents were drawn largely from Lovecraft’s circle of friends and correspondents, and include important pieces—August Derleth’s thesis on weird fiction, which shows Lovecraft’s influence; E. Hoffmann Price’s memoirs of Farnsworth Wright and Robert E. Howard, which would be the start of his Book of the Dead; essays on James F. Morton, etc. The content was not all Lovecraftian, but these rarities became collector’s items because of that content.

Issue #3 begins with a little mystery: a rather one-page article of appreciation on Lovecraft entitled “Cosmic Horror” by Dorothy Tilden Spoerl. It has been largely forgotten by time, although it appears to be one of the first such appreciations by a woman on Lovecraft’s fiction to see print. But who was Spoerl? What connection did she have with Lovecraft?

There is no obvious trace of Dorothy T. Spoerl in Lovecraft’s published correspondence. Her autobiography makes no mention of Lovecraft, pulp fiction, or amateur journalism; although it gives a little context: in 1945 she was 35 years old, married to minister Howard Spoerl, and had a PhD in Psychology; “Cosmic Horror” appears to be her only amateur publication of record. On her husband Howard Spoerl, there is a little more data: he had placed poems in the amateur journal Driftwind (1935, produced by Walter J. Coates, a friend of Lovecraft’s), Leaves (1938, produced by R. H. Barlow, Lovecraft’s literary executor), and The Ghost (1945 and 1947 issues).

The Spoerls, then, appear to have been at least friends-of-friends and part of the wider community of amateur journalism, even if they never met Lovecraft directly.

The title as much as anything suggests that Dorothy Tilden Spoerl had read Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, which had first seen print in W. Paul Cook’s earlier amateur journal The Recluse (1927); revised, expanded, and serialized (but the series never finished) for the fanzine The Fantasy Fan (1933-1935); and finally Arkham House reprinted the whole thing in The Outsider and Others (1939). So we know that Spoerl read that; the essay specifically mentions both “The Shunned House” and “The Picture in the House,” which stories had appeared in multiple formats before 1945, including The Outsider and Others; but we have no idea what all of Lovecraft she read.

Yet she did read him.

Which says something in itself. Though one can hardly imagine a pair of folks more ideologically different—Spoerl’s faith appears to have been very sincere; Lovecraft a determined atheist—she did find a connection with him through his fiction. It spoke to a part of her own experience, and that was something she wanted to share. We don’t know why she read Lovecraft, but her reaction to reading Lovecraft speaks to why the Old Gent’s fiction retains its popularity: the themes resonate with people, even those markedly different in outlook from Lovecraft himself.

Spoerl
The Ghost #3 (1945)

The Reverend Doctor Dorothy Tilden Spoerl died in 1999 at the age of 93. “Cosmic Horror” was published only once, in The Ghost #3 (1945). No copyright renewal could be located.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis

I’ve heard from various sources in town that Lovecraft’s wife has suddenly put in an appearance and is causing somewhat of a rumpus. Is this true, or is it, as usual, the kind of ill thought out gossip that is prevalent among the inept citizens of the L. A. Fantasy Society?
—Ray Bradbury to August Derleth, 19 Nov 1947 

Lovecraft’s wife did turn up; she is now a Mrs. Sonia Davis, the widow of the husband (no. 3) she had after HPL. She wrote a biography called THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and wanted to incorporate a lot of his prejudices as if they were major parts of his life, seen through her Yiddish eyes; she also wanted to include letters of Lovecraft, but we pointed out that the only way she could do that would be with our permission first. We have heard nothing further from her, though I had a talk with her in New York City.
—August Derleth to Ray Bradbury, 21 Nov 1947

Howard Phillips Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene at an amateur convention in Boston in 1921; on 3 March 1924 they were married. The union was brief; they cohabited for only about fifteen months in New York City, with Sonia forced to seek work in the Midwest where Howard would not follow, and Howard returned to Providence. In 1929, Sonia petitioned Howard for a divorce; due to the laws in place at the time, this could not be granted without cause, and the pretense was made that Sonia had deserted him. Howard, however, did not sign the final decree. They remained in touch for some years, and Howard even helped her with her travelogue. In 1933 Sonia left for California, and in 1936 she remarried, to Nathaniel Abraham Davis. H. P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Sonia was not made aware of this until 1945, when informed of the fact by their mutual associate Wheeler Dryden. Nathaniel Davis died 6 April 1946.

So it was, in the immediate aftermath of the second World War and the revelations of the Holocaust, that Sonia H. Davis cast back her mind some twenty years to write her memoir of her second husband, H. P. Lovecraft. The resulting document is a valuable account on several fronts: no one was as intimate with H. P. in the way of his wife, and since H. P. was very reluctant to write about his marriage in his letters, Sonia’s account provides the major source for their domestic life, as well as incidental information on their courtship.

Getting published, however, was a bit tricky.

While here Belknap Long put me in touch with Mr. August Derleth, who seems to have full rights to HP’s work; at least so he states.

I read a few pages to him from my scribbled manuscript (it was almost illegible to myself).

At first he told me that he wanted to publish it. Then he shunted me off to one Ben Abramson who, he said would publish it. At first Derleth said he would me $600.00 for it at the end of three years, with possibly a small initial sum against royalties.

I’m not young enough to wait three years. If the work is important to those who are most interested I felt it ought to be paid for outright.

So upon reflection I wrote to Mr. Derleth telling him I would have my own publisher do the work and that I would use my story of the “Invisible Monster” as revised by H.P. of mine first as well as some very personal letters and poems of his revision.

In reply he shot back a spec. del. letter that all HP. material belong to the estate of H.P.L. and that “Arkham House” (ie. he) alone had full legal rights to its use; and that I was likely to find that the could would restrain the sale of the work, would confiscate & destroy it.

I have written him stating that I had already offered the material to you, but that I may have to retract the offer if I am to be punished for using letters that were addressed to me personally.

Perhaps I am quite ignorant of the law but I cannot see how these can belong to the Lovecraft estate, to Mr. Barlow (as he stated) or to himself! Personally I no longer feel an interest in my past. Other interests have developed since then. However, because Mr. D. & you and others clamored for HPL’s private life with me, I thought it might be a source of income, and at the same time tell some truths that would throw more light on his character and perhaps on his psychology.

Since I do not know the law regarding these matters and as I have no money to start any “fights” it might be the better part of valor to drop the matter altogether, since while I do not fear Mr. D’s veiled threats and open intimidation I’m not in a position to fight.

Mr. D’s method of “high pressuring” me into doing what he wants is not to my taste. It would be interesting to contact the county clerk in Providence and make sure my reasons to believe that H.P. died intestate. If so, how does the property belong to Barlow and Derleth?

Had HP. lived and known of D’s aims, I feel sure he would not have countenanced D’s intimidation of me, no matter how much he would have liked to have his words read by his followers.

Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 13 Sep 1947

We will never know exactly what passed between August Derleth and Sonia when they met in New York, but some correspondence survives regarding the meeting and its aftermath. After his death, Lovecraft had provided instructions that R. H. Barlow was to be his literary executor, and whether or not the document was exactly legal his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell respected his wishes. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were anxious and eager to get Lovecraft into print so that their friend’s work would not be lost; to this end they quickly got to work, and after securing permission from Mrs. Gamwell, began looking for a publisher. Failing to find one, they founded their own small press: Arkham House.

Barlow’s position as literary executor was a complication; especially as Barlow was at university at the time and moved from Kansas City to San Francisco, and then down to Mexico. Donald Wandrei joined the U.S. Army during WWII (Derleth was exempted from the draft for health reasons), leaving Derleth in essential control of Arkham House—and by extension, the Lovecraft estate, having secured Barlow’s essential cooperation for access to Lovecraft’s manuscripts and letters and Gamwell’s permission to print. Derleth took a very proprietary stance with regard to Lovecraft’s fiction, claiming that Arkham House had sole and exclusive rights to all of it, as well as his letters and any other materials—if it was to be published, it would be through Arkham House. In part, this legal bluff was hard-nosed business sense, Arkham House was not exactly a cash cow, with small print runs of relatively expensive books that took a long time to sell, the company basically supported by Derleth’s other writing. But also in part Derleth wished to preserve the memory of H. P. Lovecraft and his image. So Derleth would also threaten legal action against C. Hall Thompson during this period for using the Mythos without permission, and in 1950 would refuse publication of Warren Thomas’ thesis on Lovecraft, which cast an unflattering light.

Meanwhile, did I tell you Sonia Lovecraft Davis turned up with some laughable idea of cashing in on HPL’s “fame” and the desire to publish a “frank” book, entitled THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and quoting generously from his letters. She read me part of the ms. in New York, and in it she has HPL posing as a Jew-baiter (she is Jewish), she says she completely supported HPL for the years 1924 to 1932, and so on, all bare-faced lies. I startled her considerably when I told her we had a detailed account of their life together in HPL’s letters to Mrs. Clark [Lovecraft’s aunt Lillian Clark]. I also forbade her to use any quotations from HPL’s letters without approval from us, acting for the estate. I told her by all means to write her book and I would read it, but it was pathetically funny; she thought you could get rich on the book. She said it would sell easily a million copies! Can you beat it! I tried to point out that a biographical book on HPL by myself, out two years, had not yet sold 1000 copies, and that book combined two well-known literary names. She thought she should have $500 advance on her book as a gift, and royalties besides! I burst into impolite laughter, I fear.
—August Derleth to R. H. Barlow, 23 Oct 1947

Sonia probably didn’t have an idea about the realities of publishing, and she did likely need the money. An agreement was finally reached: Sonia cut all the quotations from Lovecraft’s letters, and the journalist Winfield Townley Scott heavily edited the piece, which was published in the 28 August 1948 edition of the Providence Journal as “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him.”

In September 1948, Sonia suffered a heart attack.

“Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him” was published in Books at Brown vol. XI, nos. 1-2; Lovecraft’s papers had been placed at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence by R. H. Barlow shortly after Lovecraft’s death. Cordial relations between Sonia and August Derleth were re-established. In 1949, Arkham House published Something About Cats and Other Pieces which included “Lovecraft As I Knew Him” (a Derleth-edited version of “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him”) as well as the stories “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock.”

Little other material was forthcoming; Sonia broke her hip in 1960 and ceased to work, moving into a rest home. Arkham House eventually published a briefer remembrance “Memories of Lovecraft I” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1969), and later a letter that Lovecraft had sent her as “Lovecraft in Love” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1971). A young student named R. Alain Everts, interviewing Lovecraft’s surviving correspondents interviewed her and obtained a copy of Alcestis which he would eventually publish. His final telephone call with her was 22 December 1972; Sonia H. Davis would pass away four days later.

While a few more items would be published after Sonia’s death, her memoir of Lovecraft remains her single largest work. It was eventually published in its original form—sans any quotes from Lovecraft’s letters but before Scott or Derleth edited it, with an appendix on their mutual friend Samuel Loveman—in 1985 from Necronomicon Press under her original title: The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft.

As an historical document, Sonia’s memoir is both extremely valuable and not without its flaws. On the one hand, it is a first-person account, even if some of the events being written about are twenty years in the past. Many of the basic facts that can be checked against other sources do check out; there are a few claims that probably deserved caveats—S. T. Joshi in his introduction to the text notes:

The extent to which Sonia harps upon money matters in her memoir may in part be justified—she was clearly trying to set the record straight and correct the inadequacies of previous treatments, especially by W. Paul Cook—but also underscores another point of tension which Lovecraft was perhaps reluctant to mention to his correspondents. For a full two years—from 1924 to 1926—Lovecraft was essentially supported financially by his wife. he had virtually no independent income, and his bootless efforts to find employment in New York are poignantly chronicled in his letters of the period. (5-6)

Some claims have to be measured against what else we know. Sonia’s assertion that:

He admired Hitler, and read Mein Kampf almost as soon as it was released and translated into English. I believe he was much influenced by that book. It may have had much to do in influencing further his hate, not only for Jews, but for all minorities, which he made little effort to conceal. (28)

This claim is on the last page of the book, in an addendum of afterthoughts that are predominantly about Lovecraft’s racial views. Keeping in mind that Sonia was writing this after World War II, when antisemitism was more prominent, and that she had very limited contact with Lovecraft after 1932 when Hitler came to power—which she and Lovecraft chronicled a small part of in their European Glimpses. The first English edition of Mein Kampf was the Dugdale abridged version published in 1933; it is possible Lovecraft read this, although there is no mention of it in his correspondence, and excerpts were published in the Times. So the claim is a bit iffy on the face: it’s not clear how Sonia would know this, the timing is a bit suspect, and there is no clear corroborating evidence from Lovecraft’s letters that he read Mein Kampf. But it cannot be completely discounted; they may well have continued corresponding in the mid-30s, and Lovecraft may have read the excerpts in the Times and mentioned them.

Similar consideration has to be given to every claim in the book. Her insistence on the importance of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft to Howard does not seem borne out by a study of Lovecraft’s letters, but many other little details are. In some cases, such as the writing of “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” Sonia is essentially the sole source we have to go on. Her manuscript sans Scott and Derleth’s writing is often disordered, written down as she remembers it, or to counteract specific points in previous memoirs about Lovecraft that had been written at that point (1946).

Also telling at the things that Sonia does not talk about. She makes almost no mention of her previous marriage or family; barely mentioning her mother (Lovecraft’s mother-in-law), who was alive and in New York at the time of their marriage, or her adult daughter Carol Weld (they had become estranged sometime in the 1920s), and no mention of her half-siblings in the Midwest. Juicy details on the Lovecrafts’ sex life were also not forthcoming, although Everts would provide what few we have from his interviews with Sonia, and Derleth noted after meeting Sonia in Los Angeles in 1953:

A propos your piece on Lovecraft, the question of HPL and sex had been bothering me for some time […] so in 1953 when I was in Los Angeles, I asked Sonia Davis—the ex-Mrs. Lovecraft—rather bluntly about HPL’s sexual adequacy. She assured me that he had been entirely adequate sexually, and since she impressed me as a well-sexed woman, not easily satisfied, I concluded that HPL’s “Aversion” was very probably nothing more than a kind of puritanism—that is, it was something “gentlemen” didn’t discuss.
—August Derleth, Haunted (1968) vol. 1, no 3, 114

Much of the actual domestic life and some of their later visits after their separation are not included in Sonia’s memoir. We know from Lovecraft’s letters to his aunts that he spent an extensive amount of time out of the household, visiting friends and the Kalem Club; we know that they enjoyed going out to dinner and to the theater; that when she was ill he would visit her in the hospital for hours; that they struggled with finances after Sonia lost her job and ended up selling some of her furniture.

It is an important memoir; perhaps one of the most important memoirs of Lovecraft that we have. Nearly forty years were required to get Sonia’s unedited words to the public, and she did not live to see that happen. The few errors in it or the critical assessment of some claims do not detract from its importance; it is the nature of historical research to question sources, to view them critically, to weigh the evidence against other accounts. To ask ourselves why Sonia was writing this, and to whom. There she was, alone once more, writing about a husband that had died nearly a decade before, and whom she had first met over twenty years before—and there are moments in her recollections that may be a bit rose-tinted, and others where Sonia was clearly trying to answer to claims about Lovecraft’s prejudices, or refute the inaccuracies of early biographers. Yet she wrote what only she could—and we are the richer for it.

“The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” has been most recently published in Ave Atque Vale (2018) from Necronomicon Press, alongside other memoirs of Lovecraft.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女): Article 01: In The Vault (2019) by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希)

It was the publicity attending this investigation which set reporters on the track of the Whateleys, and caused the Boston Globe and Arkham Advertiser to print flamboyant Sunday stories of young Wilbur’s precociousness, Old Whateley’s black magic, the shelves of strange books, the sealed second story of the ancient farmhouse, and the weirdness of the whole region and its hill noises.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

The public knows of the Miskatonic Expedition through our frequent wireless reports to the Arkham Advertiser and Associated Press, and through the later articles of Pabodie and myself.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

As was only natural under the circumstances, this piquant debating finally got into print in the form of letters to the Arkham Advertiser; some of which were copied in the press of those Vermont regions whence the flood-stories came.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Lovecraftian manga have been undergoing a recent renaissance in Japan, with the critically acclaimed reception of Tanabe Gou’s adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness, “The Hound,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and most recently “The Call of Cthulhu,” all of which have been or are being translated and published in foreign language editions: Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, etc. Other popular adaptations include the Cthulhu no Yobi Koe series by Chuuou Higashiguchi (中央東口), and related manga include the Minase Yomu and the Really Scary Cthulhu Mythology (水瀬陽夢と本当はこわいクトゥルフ神話) series by Yoshihara Masahiko (吉原雅彦), and the many Zone of Cthulhu manga released by the SAN-EI Corporation (三栄)—which includes The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女) series by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希).

The conceit of the series is simple: Alice Allan is a cub reporter for the Arkham Advertiser, the local newspaper that appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and her “cases” cover a number of Lovecraft’s stories, both Mythos and non-Mythos, as set around Arkham. The result is a series of adaptations with a twist: we get to see the stories from a new perspective, that of a young newspaperwoman investigating the odd happenings. The series is categorized as a seinen (青年漫画), aimed at young men (18-30s), being more realistic and less action-packed than manga like One Piece or Dragon Ball, but readers of all genders and ages can appreciate it.

Chibi
Chibi version of Billy, a supporting character.

The adaptation is played seriously, but with more than a few laughs thrown in, the figures sometimes reduced to small chibi-style exaggerated figures to emphasize the one-off joke, familiar from manga like Shirow Masamune’s original Ghost in the Shell. The translation by Amimaru Translation and Localization Services Ltd. is mostly solid, although every now and again a joke may fail to land due to some cultural crossing of wires.

The small details and stark contrasts in the illustrations really shine though. Takata Yuki has worked hard to express the America of the 1920s, full of newsboys and the transition from the small industrial city of Arkham to out-of-the-way rural community of Peck Valley is like traveling back in time. Done in simple black-and-white, the bright outside scenes are given white backgrounds, while the moment the intrepid reporters step into the vault, the page is dominated by huge splashes of stark black, a very effective presentation that accentuates the emotional response of Alice Allan and her associate Billy.

Alice herself is the major focus and driver of the plot. She desires to prove herself as a reporter, and this is her first real opportunity to do so, by looking into the morbid details around the mysterious death and quick burial. While her enthusiasm is sometimes played for laughs, especially when contrasted against her long-suffering friend Billy, it is very effective at cutting right to the heart of Lovecraft’s story.

The story is not exactly a straight adaptation; Takata Yuki wisely doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of Lovecraft’s prose, and takes a few liberties with the ending, hinting at this being a small piece of a bigger picture that the reporters know they can’t quite see yet. Which works very well; Alice Allan is an engaging, energetic, enthusiastic protagonist, and starting slow with one of Lovecraft’s more low-key stories as their first “case” was a wise decision on the part of Takata Yuki.

The Woman of the Arkham Advertiser is available in Japanese on Kindle, and in English on Manga Planet subscription service.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).